She Shines in the Darkness of His Absence
That Time My Wallet Took a Bus Trip to Fisherman's Wharf

The Story of the Big Spill

When you carry things for a living, the likelihood that you will drop things is sky high. When pouring refills and building cocktails or opening wine is a huge part of your job, the chances you will break or crack or spill something are through the roof.

When one takes on a serving job it becomes immediately clear that accidents will happen. A lot. Whether it's an errant elbow to a tray of champagne flutes or pulling the tea urn out too soon and watching in horror as sheets of brewed black tea rain down in waterfalls, shit gets fucked up. You just hope and pray it isn't *on* someone. That's when it gets really ugly.

Belgian Beer Lunch at High Street Grill, Mt. Holly, NJ

Take for instance, last night. We were having the biggest night in the restaurant's history, and I was weeded. I won't lie, I was slammed and hurrying to take care of the many people in my section, which happened to be outside, on the patio.

I'll pause right here to say I hate working on the patio. It's because I'm not good at it. The tables are far away and the computers are all the way inside and you are the only person out there so you can't easily snag a colleague and beg them to send that dessert on hold or top off coffees. The patio intimidates me, and last night it won.

I had a full section and two new two-tops. I made it out to 207 with two glasses of iced tea, and when I went to take one of them off the tray with my left hand the glass tipped over, hit the edge of the table and shattered, sending shards of glass and cubes of ice and brown liquid pouring down and into a bag of freshly-bought dresses in a Nordstroms bag.

When this happens, when you ruin people's new clothes or important dates, you watch it happen in a torturous slow motion. You begin to calculate how much time and energy and "I'm sorry" it's going to take to rectify the situation, add that to the amount of time you didn't have before the spill and you softly say to yourself, "Fuck it."

There is a sort of mental switch that is flipped when you feel all eyes on you, watching the spectacle you created, where you realize, "It's food and drink. I didn't spill the new cure for cancer all over the ground. I spilled iced tea. So, fuck it. Everything will be okay."

Then you begin to pick up the pieces.

If you are lucky, like me, you are surrounded by a crew of compassionate and quick-moving co-workers who appear like magic with a broom and dustpan to sweep up the debris, while someone else is at the ready with towels for wiping. If you have it good, like me, your incredibly understanding and capable manager rushes out, apologizes profusely, grabs the shopping bags, sorts through what can be salvaged, offering to replace what has been damaged. Then your manager, if you have a manager like mine, will then rush off to Nordstroms with the stained dresses and the receipt and have replacement garments table-side before the pair of women this happened to see entrees on the table.

Last night everyone rushed to my aid to help. When I asked one young lady to replace the iced teas that were the instigators in all this, I began to tear up. The embarrassment and stress became too much.

Particularly when I went back out to the patio and the lady whose dresses were ruined (then replaced) asked, "Are you the person who spilled the drink?" I said I was, and she grabbed my hand and pulled it toward her bosom. She is my grandmother's age, if either of my grandmothers were still alive.

"Don't you worry," she said. She pulled my hand even closer toward her chest, and I squatted down beside her. "Don't you worry. I was a waitress at summer camp, and I spilled orange soda all over and oh, did I cry."

I began to cry.

"Listen, sweetie, I don't want you to get in trouble. Accidents happen. We're both Jewish and we work in the Jewish Community Center kitchen and we spill and break things every time we walk in there. Don't you worry. You go home tonight and have yourself a stiff drink.

I couldn't help myself. I squatted and cried at her kindness. I spilled tea on her and she went out of her way to comfort me and assure me that it was fine. She patted my hands and she hugged me.

And I've found that's pretty common when accidents like that happen in restaurants. When people's jeans become soaked with Diet Coke or four glasses of cabernet wash over the table and onto their clothes, they don't flip out and scream or fly off in a rage. Not at all. Most of the time people become kinder and more personable and are quick to forgive and eager to make sure no one gets fired. It's just tea. It's just slacks. It's not the end of the world.

I said this last night as I relayed my shitty night to my colleagues in the dish area: "When push comes to shove, most people don't suck." Not the most eloquent statement, but true nonetheless.

This is evidenced as well by the other people in your section who have witnesses the shit-show, thanking their stars privately that they came away unscathed. They say things like, "Oooh, girl. I feel for you, girl," or they ask, "Are you okay?," and they make sure you know they can wait for that second beer. They're good; you go get yourself together.

Then they all leave really big tips.

Big tips, human compassion, blog/book material or not: no server ever wants to spill something on a customer. It's mortifying. In fact, Beth tells me she knows a guy who was waiting tables when he spilled an entire tray of wine on four guests. And he just turned around, walked out and never came back--to his table or to the job.

Which leads me to ask, have you ever been spilled upon while dining out? Would love to hear tales from the other side of the table.

[photo by Jazz Guy]

Comments

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A waitress in Murfreesboro once spilled sangria all over me/my very light brown shirt. I swear she must have psychically signaled the manager, because before I knew it, I had moist towels for shirt triage and an arrangement for free dry cleaning.

I was waiting tables at Friday's on Elliston in Nashville in 1987. I didn't even have the excuse of a tray. I was walking by table 43ish and swinging my arms. Somehow my hand caught the water glass on a luncher's table and ice water went everywhere.

The only time I've gotten upset after a spill like this is when the restaurant staff didn't react. You're absolutely right - it's only tea, and only pants, but it is an inconvenience and when there's no response to help, that's when it turns really sour. Who could get mad in a scenario like yours? Everyone reacted just perfectly.

Don and I were dining at Outback as guest of our next-door neighbors. We all ordered our drinks, three sweet teas and one water. The nice young waiter was very prompt getting the drinks to our table. However, when he picked up one of the teas, all of the drinks tipped forward and all poured onto Don and the table. We were sitting at a booth and most of the liquid went into the seat, so we are both sitting in the wet seat as the young man, as you, is totally mortified. Wait staff came over to help him, extra napkins were brought over, and the manager came over to help make it better. The only thing the manager said was, "I am sorry. We have just had the floors refinished--see how shiny they are and how good they look. I guess they are a little slick." The floors had nothing to do with the spilling of the drinks. The manager must have skipped the training on how to help tea-drenched customers. All this time Don is sitting in tea-soaked pants and underwear, socks and shoes. We were moved to another table, and the liquid continued to drip off Don. We dined and drove home. Almost two hours later, he was still wet.
We never said an unkind word to the waiter who was so, so sorry. However, we did expect the manager to ask about us and if Don needed anything--like dry clothes or a towel, or something.
We have not been back. I would not want to risk messing up their " new shiny floors."

Years ago at the old location of Exit 4 Cracker Barrel in Clarksville two waitresses managed to pour a whole barrel of steaming hot tea on Crystal. She looked like she had entered a wet tee shirt contest. Her hair was matted and I was terrified as the steam rose from her little body. All her clothes were ruined and everything in her purse was unusable, including a big book of postage stamps she had just purchased. Miraculously, she wasn't burned. We were nice, of course, and Cracker Barrel gave her some new clothes from their "store." Our meals were comped and apologies flowed about like the tea. Now it's a funny story we tell.

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